Ning: The Marmite of Social Networks.

You love it or loathe it.

I’ve recently read several posts singing the praises of Ning. I’ve had an account on it for quite some time & I’ve yet to learn to love it in the way that some do.

It does have some very good points – quite a lot in fact:

  • It’s very easy to set up.
  • It’s free (or commercial, if you choose) – though those teaching 13-18 year olds can have an ad-free version for free.
  • It’s possible to have a very private network – which can give educators the privacy they need – especially for that 13-18 age group.
  • It can be customisable – so different Nings can look different.
  • Within a Ning, it’s possible to have forums, individual blogs etc.

So, why don’t I like it?

Well, it’s really the fact that it creates separate Nings. So, I can join several Nings, and people in one need never know I’m in another. But, *I* know, and I’d really quite like to have an easy way to see an overview of my life in all my social networks.

From an educational point of view – especially at Higher Education, all too often the structure of both the modularised curriculum, and then the VLE on top of that, encourages siloisation of learning. If we then create a Ning to support each subject – we’ll then have further siloisation of learning.

Other SNSs – such as Facebook & Elgg, make it possible for the user to see their overall activity in all their communities – but to customise (particularly in Elgg) who can see what.

My other bug bear with Ning, is that even with the communities hosted on Ning, I have to login to each one. I can’t login once & see them all. OK, so I have Firefox set to remember passwords, so it’s just a case of clicking, but I still have to do it!

So, I’m afraid that, despite several attempts to get over it & indeed, membership of several Nings (not visited that often) I just can’t see myself ever getting into the Love it camp.

Maybe, were I teaching younger students, then I might see a use; especially at class level (rather than subject level), but for me, and for what I’m teaching, it just doens’t do anything.

Social Conferencing.

Alt C used Crowdvine to get some social networking going during the conference – it was Ok, though I have seen better Social networks (mind you, I’d far rather Crowdvine than Ning!) I’ve just seen the website for Handheld Learning – which seems to be a very useful site – as it’s got some social tools (fora etc) but also the presentations / photos/ videos all on the same site. Useful info too!

Via Stephen Downes.


I have just discovered LearnHub. Initially, I wasn’t overly impressed, as the intro tour & also the initial list of links, implied that it was predominantly school (i.e. under 18 year old learners) oriented. However, searching the communities found me several of interest; in particular one on Web2 & teaching/learning. Though it’s run by Enzo Silva, who I’ve not come across before, many of the lessons are created by Nellie Deutsch, who I have “met” virtually in a number of locations.
LearnHub seems to offer a set of “lessons”, “tests” & discussions. I’ve not explored it well enough yet to know if you can ensure that a test is linked to a lesson etc.

How did I find it; well, I had a message to say that Twine has now left the beta stage, and while the featured Twine on the home page looked interesting (beer), I thought perhaps I’d better search for something a little more relevant to work – and found the link to LearnHub. | Home An attempt to map who’s doing what, where. C’mon Portsmouth, there’s only 7 of us listed, as does Southampton; but Plymouth has 54, and Edinburgh 58!

It’s not the fastest of websites, and adding your interests is a little slow. It’s good, in that there’s a list to choose from – thus reducing the chances of mis-spelling etc., however, not everything is in the list. Bizarrely, given the nature of the website, neither “Social Networking” nor “Web2.0” feature… (Also – “University of Southampton” & “Southampton University” were listed – the latter didn’t have any departments or people. It let me delete it … will I get told off?)

Via: Stephen Downes.

Do Bebo and Facebook have educational potential?

In this week’s Multiple choice (in the Guardian Education Supplement), a parent, teacher & student were asked the above question.
Both the teacher

As a teacher, I think this kind of site has got to be part of the future.

and the parent

but I do think it’s possibly more likely you’ll get more from teenagers from Facebook than from having them hand in a conventional essay.

were more positive than the student:

I don’t think we should access MySpace or Facebook during lesson time, but some social networking sites could be involved in learning as long as they were used at break time or after school.

I tend to side more with the student, in that it’s the informal use of Facebook etc., that will be of use. The points that both the parent & teacher make, however, would cover the use of tools used to develop specific learning networks – using the skills students have developed using social networks.

I’d be wary of using the same tool for both; I like to keep personal life & work separate. However, others are less pedantic – roll on true “open Social” I say!

(N.B In the online version, the student & parent views were labelled in the opposite way to the paper based version. I’m assuming the paper is right, as the comments fit better that way)

Teaching and Learning With Twitter

Jennifer has made some very valid points following the TLt Summit 2008

In particular:

  • It is time to toss out the “blog, wiki, podcast” mantra. This is bigger than tools isolated for singular purpose. If we keep pushing the tools into categories, new users will continue to only use the tools for those purposes. We should be twisting, stretching and breaking these tools, not neatly packaging content with them.
  • and

  • A wiki is no place to start an intentional, sustainable community. I’ve always said this to my internal customers, but it has been based on my use of them. I’ve now heard many many people describe how the wiki did not work for creating a sustainable network. Let’s let it go, move on and get more creative with our wiki use.

I’d definitely agree with the point about wikis, that they aren’t that useful for community building; but that’s not to say they’re not useful. While I agree to a point about the “blogs/wikis/podcasts” point she makes, I do think that they do offer some form of structure to help people get going; yes, we can be creative with them, but some (?many) people need some ideas to help them get going. What’s probably useful is the range of ideas that can be shown to work with a particular tool (just as today most Powerpoint trainers encourage their users not to use bullet points & noisy text effects; but to look at all the other ways it can be used).

Jennifer also made a point about Twitter being in heavy use. I’ve decided to revitalise my account (can’t promise that I’ll use it for anything other than reading other people’s things mind), but I guess I ought to try to get into it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never really taken to text messaging in a big way, that it doesn’t feel really “me” – nor do I use the status updates on Facebook. One of the reasons I don’t like Twitter is the fact I can’t subdivide contacts into smaller groups to send targetted messages, however, this blog doesn’t let me do that – and with RSS feeds people are getting the information whether they like it or not. It’s not as if the only way folks can read this is to come here.

I recently read a paper about people who read, rather than keep blogs. Wonder if anyone’s done any research into people who have a twitter a/c to follow others, rather than to be followed themselves. Is this stalking?

Via: Stephen Downes